San Luis Obispo, Calif. – As the coronavirus pandemic progressed during the spring quarter at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, Facilities Operations Executive Director Jude Fledderman started thinking about posting signs on campus to help people safely navigate the campus in the age of COVID-19.
At the same time, University Graphic Systems (UGS), the Graphic Communication Department’s student-run printing and design operation, was brainstorming how to keep their business running during the pandemic.
“I knew Facilities was looking to get these signs printed quickly, and we have the equipment and capacity to produce them,” said Colleen Twomey, chair of the Graphic Communication Department. “It was serendipitous.”
Since July, the students who primarily operate UGS have been making the signs, which show people how to get around campus buildings while maintaining social distancing, among other things.
“The UGS folks were extremely positive in taking this challenge on and working through the details,” Fledderman said. “This is not something they expected to do, but they took it on and delivered.”
The student UGS managers, who were mostly trained on their duties via Zoom meetings spring quarter, knew this year would be different. The sign project hammered home the new normal of adapting a business to serve customers in pandemic conditions.
“The students’ responsibility is to run the company, and typically there is plenty of business throughout the year. This year they have had a big challenge due to COVID-19, and they really have to pivot and be agile,” Twomey said. “I’m extremely proud of these students.”
The students, along with Graphic Communication electromechanical technician Peter Schlosser and adviser Dina Vees, are figuring out how to move forward and expand their skills during this unprecedented time while also fulfilling their UGS duties. Vees helped create a digital storefront where UGS’s customers can place orders online, helping to streamline operations.
The team has also learned how to use different kinds of machinery in the shop, which is useful not only for printing signs but also for future products. They’ve also created a San Luis Obispo-themed kit of products, including buttons, stickers, a mug and T-shirt, to help new students this fall feel more connected to the area as remote learning continues.
“You don’t get any deeper, hands-on learning than you do in UGS,” said Stephanie Tang, UGS’s specialty printing manager and a fourth-year graphic communication major. “As managers, we have so many responsibilities, and we have to learn how to use the machinery effectively.”
UGS General Manager Chris Jones added, “It’s a lot. It’s uncharted territory for sure.” said UGS general manager Chris Jones, also a fourth-year graphic communication major. “Because of the pandemic and this need for signage, we now incorporate it into our services. We have all these new machines that are within our capability of using and it’s honestly fantastic.
Working in UGS is “the epitome of Learn by Doing,” continued Jones, a fourth-year graphic communication major.
While part of the Learn by Doing experience in UGS involves making mistakes and learning from them, the student managers all said putting out quality work is their highest priority.
“Being able to run a machine by yourself and know what you’re doing is a pretty cool feeling,” said Elise Monroe, account manager and third-year graphic communication student. “Although we do make mistakes — and we learn through our mistakes — we’re still a company that holds quality as one of its highest standards. Being able to make those mistakes, and then being able to fix it as properly as we can and having that clear-cut final product, is ultimately what we’re striving for and what UGS tries to do with all of its projects.”
“Working for UGS is definitely a privilege,” said Project Manager Kinsey Mangan, a fourth-year graphic communication student. “These are the kinds of things it seems employers want to know about, and I think we have a team that really takes that seriously.”
The UGS team all said they were excited to take part in making the signs and had sent videos of the process to their families, shown the signs off to their roommates, and found other ways to take pride in their work.
“I went on a run after my shift working on the floor signage, and I ran by the Baker Center and the signs were up,” Mangan said. “That was the first time I had seen them on the building, and it was super exciting to see that this is something that everyone on campus is going to see — and I had a part in doing it.”
Michaela Kwan, left, and Chris Jones work with the die cut machine at the Cal Poly Printing Press as they and other student employees print signage to be used in buildings on campus during the coronavirus pandemic.